It is pretty clear that if the GOP wants to win another national election, it will have to broaden its appeal. To do that, it should look to its governors, because politics at the state level tends to be more pragmatic than ideological.
Republicans now hold 30 of the nation’s governorships—the highest number held by either party since the year 2000. This means 60 percent of the states, with a total population of about 180 million people, have a Republican in the governor’s chair. This means that the GOP has 30 political laboratories in which to experiment with fresh approaches to education, health care, regulation, taxes, energy, jobs creation, economic growth and other issues of vital concern to Americans.
Nearly all states have constitutional or statutory requirements that their budgets be balanced. For Democrats, that usually means raising taxes. Republicans have traditionally favored the alternative: making government more economical while promoting growth to enlarge the tax base. The GOP’s 30 governors have the chance to demonstrate that lean government serves the public best. Indeed, they are already reinvigorating America at the grassroots.
Look at Ohio, where unemployment has dropped from 9 percent to 6.8 percent since Republican John Kasich took office in 2011. In his first year in office, Gov. Kasich eliminated an $8 billion deficit without raising taxes. He also trimmed regulations to encourage business growth. The state is expecting to run a budget surplus this year. Pat McCrory, North Carolina’s first Republican governor in two decades, is pushing similar measures to jumpstart the economy of his own state.
You can also look at Pennsylvania, which GOP Gov. Tom Corbett wants to make “the energy capital of the United States.” Mr. Corbett advocates hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” to unlock the natural gas potential of the vast Marcellus Shale that extends throughout the Keystone State. The governor points to Texas and Oklahoma, which have used fracking for 30 years, as proof that the technique is safe. (In contrast, neighboring New York, which also sits atop the riches of the Marcellus Shale, maintains a moratorium on fracking.)
One of the biggest items in any state’s budget is education. Yet study after study shows no correlation between increased spending on education and better academic performance by students. This is due largely to the power of teacher unions, which consistently oppose meaningful education reforms. Republican governors, notably Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, are showing that they have the spine to stand up to the unions. Mr. Jindal recently signed into law an expanded school choice program that provides scholarships to poor families with children in substandard schools.
What about health care? Obamacare was railroaded through Congress without a single Republican vote. The Supreme Court may have upheld it, but putting it into effect will depend heavily on state cooperation. So far, half the states have declined to set up state health insurance exchanges, which are an essential component of Obamacare. Republican governors want greater flexibility and more say in implementing the new law—in short, they want to bring Obamacare more in line with reality. So President Obama may find that the success of his ambitious health care plan requires him to compromise with Republicans after all.
Then look at tax reform. Washington may be gridlocked on this issue, but the GOP, in addition to its 30 governors, controls both legislative chambers in 24 states. Red states are forging ahead with proposals to trade increases in sales taxes for cuts in state income and corporate taxes. Conservative economists have long argued that consumption-based tax systems stimulate savings and investment and create jobs.
Finally, although the GOP is supposed to be out of touch with women and minorities, four of the nation’s five women governors are Republicans—Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Jan Brewer of Arizona and Mary Fallin of Oklahoma. Of the nation’s five minority-group governors, four are Republicans—Ms. Martinez, Ms. Haley, Mr. Jindal and Brian Sandoval (Nevada). This is another area where the GOP’s governors can help the party to broaden its appeal.
More than half of all Americans live in states with Republican governors. These governors are generating low-tax, pro-growth reforms that are popular with local voters and are drawing new residents from other states. A potential Republican majority already exists. As a businessperson, I am hoping for pragmatic approaches that will produce credible results. If the GOP wants a winning platform in 2016, it should let its governors write it.
Thomas C. Stewart, a former Navy commander who flew combat during the first Iraq war, is an Oregon businessman.